Escape the “Echo Chamber”

I live within the walls of privilege — walls shared by my friends and peers where we reinforce each other’s ideas and only understand each other’s problems. This needs to change, and this post is my first step towards doing that.

Election Night 2016

I never felt this wall as strongly as I did last Tuesday. On election day, I left the co-working space of my ed-tech startup in San Francisco, to walk to my voting station in Pacific Heights. Afterwards, I went to Northstar Cafe in North Beach, where I watched the election results with friends. The crowd at the bar was primarily white, and some of them were wearing self-made “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre” shirts.

As states began to call the election results, and the New York Times’ and FiveThirtyEight’s probability charts began to favor Trump more and more, the bar became a mixture of shock and depression.

I would have been surprised if a single person in that bar had voted for Trump.

We all lived in an insular world and everything that we saw and read led us to believe that Hillary would win. We live in an echo chamber.

Causes of the Problem

Human beings like to self-organize into communities, particularly with people that are similar to us. Technology has only furthered this problem of interacting and communicating with those most similar to us.

I have ~2,000 Facebook friends. Throughout the presidential campaign season, I saw notifications from 4 of them who posted favorable things for Trump.

A majority of my friends are also white or asian. I’ve typically only seen posts from a handful of people about topics related to things like Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Access Pipeline (though this has notably increased this election cycle).

A majority of my friends live in Coastal America. They are college educated. They are middle class or upper middle class. I have friends on Facebook that aren’t a part of these majority groups, but because I interact with them less frequently, they are buried in my News Feed.

Twitter, while not as algorithmically segregating, also falls prey to user selection bias. Even if you do a good job of selecting diverse voices to follow, you risk missing it all in the continuous stream, especially if you follow slightly more of one voice over another. Based on how Twitter recommends new sources to follow, this problem can just continue to grow. Diverse perspectives can just as easily become buried on Twitter. And these problems exist in all social media.

As a result, I end up communicating with the same group of people, with similar points of view, sharing the same articles from the same sources.

Going Forward

I want to escape this “echo chamber”. I want to escape my own ignorance. I want to be better informed about all walks of life and all points of view. I want to understand real issues, policies, innovations, and trends both globally and in the US. And I want to share this information with as many people as possible.

I’m working on building out a news feed and newsletter that does this. I want to be exposed to quality journalism on a wide variety of topics from varied sources and points of view. This is an initial step, and I’ll need lots of feedback to improve it and stay true to my mission, but I’m excited to take this first step.

If you’d like to be included, just fill out this Google Form. I’ll let you know as soon as I have a version 1 ready.

There’s a lot going on in this country, and this certainly won’t solve our problems, but I believe being more and better informed is a step in the right direction.

Also, if you agree with me, click the 💚 below so more people will see this article here on Medium.